January 30, 2011 § 5 Comments
Some of what is written below is potentially true. All errors, omissions, exaggerations, and falsifications become the property of the finder.
Pass the cyclonite, please
We sat there in the living room, awash in panic, anxiety, and the hormonal flood that comes from having suddenly assaulted our stomachs with the lard count of twelve delicious sausages, a plate of tasty bacon, half a loaf of a bread sopped in the Jaegers’ famous French toast dip, and a scalding cup of coffee. This was the briefing room of Dave Jaeger’s FTR, otherwise known as Mr. and Mrs. Jaeger’s bedroom, where seven of the day’s nineteen participants were hurriedly stripping, dashing into the bathroom, clogging the plumbing, and dashing back out to put on their cycling clothes. If you’ve ever wondered what a group of near-50-ish naked men looks like prancing around in a small bedroom together, you have problems. Plus, I can tell you that it isn’t very pretty.
The key characteristic of the morning was that it was flat fucking cold. Taking 43 degrees and subtracting 10 degrees for the wind chill, it meant that everyone was digging around in their duffel bags trying to find the leg warmers they’d left at home because the forecast said the high was going to be 63.
“Yeah, it’s going to be 63,” Jeff said with a laugh. “At 11 o’clock. So you’ll only have to freeze your balls off for about three hours.” Jeff had brought a plastic windbreaker, arm warmers, and leg warmers.
I, on the other hand, had eschewed the bulky choice of extra clothing in favor of an embrocation produced by a company called Mad Alchemy. I’d used it the day before for the first time, just a very slight amount on my legs, and it had heated them up for the entire 2-hour ride.
“Wanna try some of this?” I asked my semi-nude bedroom mates.
“Oh, hell yeah. Gimme some of that,” they more or less said in unison, scuffling to be the first to dip their fingers into the tawny red gel.
GFT DS Dave J. looked in. “What the fuck are you guys doing?”
“We’re putting on embrocation to keep our legs warm. Like the pros in Europe. That’s how they ride Paris-Roubaix without leg warmers.”
“Listen up, dumbshits. Don’t ever try new stuff on race day. What happens when you get an hour into the ride and find out you’re allergic to that crap, and you break out in hives? There ain’t no sag on this ride, remember?”
By this time everyone was ignoring him as hard as they could, and really ignoring the label on the Mad Alchemy tub that listed the active ingredient “rapeseed oil.” I don’t know what rapeseed is, but it sounds pretty hard core, so to speak.
MMX, whose motto is, “If the bottle says ‘take one’ always take six” was smearing on the Mad Alchemy like icing on a birthday cake. Bull, ever the competitor, saw how much MMX was using and doubled the application. SternO, who actually uses embrocation, carefully applied a very modest amount. The other nitwits smeared it on like putty.
This stuff is great man my legs are hot
When we rolled out of the driveway, the cold morning air hit us hard. Happily, those of us who’d been pro enough and smart enough to ignore Jaeger had toasty, pre-warmed legs which seemed to get warmer with every pedal stroke. Wind, schmind.
The only person having issues was MMX, who fidgeted and rotated around on his saddle in obvious discomfort. “You okay? You’re not cold, are you?” I asked.
“Nah, but I’m ah, warm in the wrong place.”
“What do you mean?”
MMX pointed at his crotch. Just before rolling out he’d dashed into the bathroom and grabbed his plumbing with the mitt he’d used to smear on the heat cream. He now had a fearsome case of hot dick, and since the embrocation is gradually absorbed by the skin over several hours, things were literally just heating up. Of course he couldn’t reach into his shorts and readjust his package because that would just smear more embrocation around the danger zone. All he could do was fidget, kind of like you’d do if someone made you set your balls on a hot skillet.
“How long does this shit last?” he asked.
“Well, I was talking to Patrick Brady about it yesterday, and he said that it will keep you warm for eight hours, no problem.”
Fillmore was a worthless president
After half an hour we hit the first small climb, with MMX and his fiery junk driving us to the top until JK sprang out from the back and summited far ahead of everyone else. We descended and began the short climb that screamingly descends to the city limit sign at Fillmore, for which there is a mad dash for the line.
I rode up next to G3, who was doing the FTR for the first time, and told him that whatever happened, he’d better not get separated on the descent. There’s a 3-mile run in on the flats to the city limit sign, and even if you’re just five or six bike lengths off on the downhill, you’ll never catch back on once the lead group hits the flats. We bombed the descent, and Alex, a young pro who rides for Team Type 1, came unhitched, wrongly figuring that he’d just catch back on at the bottom. He never did.
Harry turned on the flatback gas and started a whipping rotation with MMX, JK, G3, and Bull. With about half a mile to go a second group consisting of Napoleon, Hegg, DJ, and several others bridged up. The big, fat, green sprint sign sat in plain view and Napoleon attacked, smashed the group, and shelled himself out of his own breakaway. MMX took a huge pull, and JK found himself on the front and not at all displeased as he took out the big paddle and prepared to deliver a spanking.
He jumped, followed by Harry, with me locked on Harry’s wheel. The center line had these giant divots spaced at ten foot intervals so that if you hit one of them at speed you were going down. I charged Harry on the left and he eased me right up against the divots. I hit the gas again and shot clear, raising my arms in a victory salute to myself. Harry and JK rolled up after a while, as the finishing gap was big enough to park a semi in. Both looked sour. “I let you win,” Harry said. “Yeah, me too,” said JK, who had been even farther back than Harry. “I didn’t want to push you over the center line.”
What happens when Harry doesn’t let you win
The next section of highway was fast and long and tailwind. SternO, the next oldest participant after Gil at 60 years old, took a big gnarly pull up the long incline. Bull hit the front and kept the pace high. MMX and his hot balls continued the whipping pace he’d been setting all morning. Before long we reached the second sprint point at Santa Paula, which Alex took without even trying.
After meandering through Santa Paula we began the medium climb that would take us into Ojai. JK launched early, followed by DJ and Alex. I sat in the back, reasoning that I was going to need everything I had when we hit the climb to Casitas Lake in another half hour. MMX went to the front to organize the chase, but Napoleon elbowed him aside and set a phenomenal tempo all the way up the climb, such that by the time we crested we were not far at all from Jaeger and Alex.
Harry unleashed on the downhill, reeling in the two breakaways. JK was so far off the front that we couldn’t even see him on the long straight stretches, but with monster pull after monster pull by Harry, MMX, Bull, Alex, and Napoleon, we reeled him in just before the twisting descent into Ojai. We screamed down to the bottom, paused for a minute, and then I launched with Alex. We were quickly brought back, just in time for the little green city limit sign in Ojai.
I sat up and Harry hit the turbo, surprising everyone as it was still 600 or 700 meters to the line. They belatedly organized a chase, with Bull screaming through for the win…almost. Harry’s hand shot up at the sign, pipping Bull by the width of a tire.
My group, which rolled into Ojai several seconds behind the sprint group and with room for at least twelve semis, was bisected by an Elmo in a POS rusted out pickup who pulled out in front of us making a left turn onto the highway. As he piloted his craft to port, the giant plywood dresser in the bed of the pickup, which was filled with rags, dirty underwear, dirty magazines, tools, and credit card bills came flying out of the truck and smashing down into the middle of the road.
Like any good redneck who’s carting around crap from one mobile home to the next, he casually looked out the window, saw the massive wreckage, and just kept on driving. Welcome to Ojai, about as far from LA County as you can get without hardly leaving it.
Dialing up the heat
By now everyone was warmed up, the sun was doing its job, and it was another gorgeous day in sunny Ventura County, served up as ordered by DJ for the FTR. We stopped at the Chevron to void and load up, and several of my bedroom mates sidled up to me, twitching and looking kind of funny.
“Say, Seth,have you ever used this Mad Alchemy stuff before?” they asked.
“Well, man, like, um, how long does it last?” Awkward twist and shuffle.
“About eight or nine hours. Why?”
“My fucking legs are on fire. Feels like they’ve been dipped in hot chicken grease.”
“It should wear off by tonight. Just be sure not to touch your pecker when you pee.”
We remounted, wended our way along the highway and turned onto the climb to Casitas Lake. I had bitter memories of this climb from last year, when, hanging onto JK, G$, and Jaeger’s wheel for dear life, they had dumped me like so much refuse about a half kilometer to the summit. I had chased the entire rest of the way, catching them only after they’d stopped pedaling, just past the sprint for the Santa Barbara county line.
Evan D. sprang free past the lake, and JK dialed him into the cross hairs and slowly ramped up the pace. We passed him as our group dwindled to six, five, four, and then with the grenade blast of Alex coming unhitched, to three. JK pulled 80% of the way, with DJ doing monster efforts to keep the pace high and my confidence low.
They took turns looking back at me as I sucked wheel for all I was worth. A pull meant certain extermination. Wheel sucking meant almost certain extermination. What’s a gassed hacker to do? After DJ’s last hard pull, JK turned, saw me, and attacked again. I struggled to follow his acceleration, which kicked DJ out the back. This alone was sweet, because DJ had left me gasping and broken the year before.
JK paused, winded from his effort, and I jumped him. He latched on, waited until I faded, and countered. I held his wheel ever so tenuously as he took the KOM. We crested and as I rolled by him he said, “Hey, let’s wait for Jaeger.”
“Sure, I thought. In Santa Barbara.” I dropped it into the 11 and hammered as hard as I could, forcing my good friend, my generous and kind host, the guy I like and respect above all others, to chase his guts out and suffer like a dog. I’m not sure how much he suffered, but he caught us and we drilled it all the way to the county line, fully aware that Harry and Co. weren’t far behind.
DJ led out the sprint and JK accelerated hard, opening a gap as I tried to get his wheel. I finally got on top of the gear, but not soon enough nail him at the line. “Great sprint,” he said with a smile. “But I beat you.” I didn’t bother to tell him that I’d let him have it.
Moments later Harry, Napoleon, and Hegg came flying by. Hegg had whipped up the chase throughout the descent, and they nearly reeled us in. We took a brief break and waited while the pack regrouped. My legs ached. Incipient cramps had begun in my left leg. I’d burned most of my matchbook. And we were only halfway through the ride.
I’m not waiting on a lady…I’m just waiting on a friend
FTR confirms a universal truth among cyclists: you have no friends. Once astride your mount it’s combat, and the only meaningful outcome is the one in which you crush the other guy. We’d only had a couple of punctures, and coming out of Ventura I picked up a staple and flatted. Half the group waited. SternO, Jim B., Rod G., and the Long Beach contingent sprinted up the road.
Although it was a quick tire change with the aid of Harry, the others were long gone by the time I remounted. DJ started off the chain gang with a monster pull, followed by Harry, who had already towed the gang along the entire stretch of the 101 at 30+. Bull, MMX, JK…each guy in our crew pulled harder than the guy before, but we didn’t see the others again until Santa Paula.
“Thanks for waiting,” I said when we finally rejoined them.
“Oh, we were just cruising,” they answered. I noticed that they were all lathered in sweat.
At this point the Ogre of Ventura County loomed. Balcom Canyon Road is a short, one-mile climb with 21-22% pitches for most of the way. Ordinarily it would be a beast. But coming at the 100-mile mark after a battering day in the saddle it is your worst nightmare. Added to the difficulty of the climb there is a 2-mile run in up the canyon before you hit the climb itself. The run in is uphill, of course, and straight into a howling headwind that blows down out of the canyon.
My strategy was simple. There was no way I could beat JK in a one-on-one race to the top. He’s lighter, he’s stronger, he’s faster, he’s better. However, with a well-timed attack after a group roadside pee, I reasoned that a strong breakaway partner like MMX could get me to the base of the hill with enough time to take the KOM.
That pose is called Arching Cat with Shattered Spine
MMX’s motor only gets stronger the longer he rides. We hit the gas and held a hard, steady tempo until we picked up LRon, who had soft pedaled ahead of those who had stopped to pee. LRon jumped into our rotation, and at the turn into the canyon we overtook the group containing Jim B., he-who-always-goes-on-ahead, and SternO, he-who-everyone-waited-for-when-he-flatted-in-Ventura-but-who-charged-on-ahead-when-I-punctured-shortly-thereafter.
The battering headwind in the run-up hit us like a wall, but we forged ahead, slightly upping the pace and increasing our gap. A couple of minutes before we hit the canyon proper, I fell off my bike. The cramps were so sudden and so complete that I couldn’t even writhe. Instead, I leaned up against the guardrail, waiting for the most awful, horrific moment of my cycling existence…and I’m not talking about getting up Balcom Canyon with fully cramped quads, hams, and calves.
I grimaced, then wrested control of my face, legs sticking out unbent as rulers, and did my best May-I-please-have-a-cigarette-now-that-we’re-done-with-sex pose, trying to look as nonchalant and natural as I could, as if leaning against a hard piece of aluminum on a sweltering day at the bottom of a canyon in a howling headwind with rigor mortis legs was exactly where I had planned to be all along.
And then came the pain. JK’s group rounded the bend and the beams from their smiling faces were bright enough, and their malice-filled grins were cruel enough to easily slice through even my toughened exterior. All of their whining and complaining at having been dumped after the pee stop evaporated in a giant Kum-ba-ya of catcalls and mock sympathy.
“Which pilates pose is that?” hollered Napoleon.
“Good job holding up that guardrail!” snickered another.
And cruelest of all was DJ: “Anything I can do to help?”
I shouldered the abuse as they whizzed by, and they were soon followed by SternO’s grupetto. John W. and finally LRon came up. LRon dismounted, clapped me on the back, and smiled. “You gonna be able to pedal?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “But I don’t see any other way of getting up this bastard.”
The climb up the canyon was forgettable, except for the complete cramping that I pedaled through with each stroke. With my DFL finish, I reached the summit to a small knot of happy faces. “Good job, Seth,” someone piped up. Good job, indeed.
Home sweet home
Sixteen miles later we arrived at the Jaegers’ home, where they had prepared a feast of sandwiches, cold water, and beer for those who wanted it. Whatever humiliation I’d endured on the guardrail was but a tune-up for the barrage of laughter and whoops that kicked in once the beer began to flow.
G3 put his arm around me and thanked me. “You just gave me a lifetime’s worth of funny memories,” he said. “Thanks from the bottom of my heart.”
A couple of hours later I was back home, thoroughly pleased with the results of the best day I’ve ever had on a bike, and already looking forward to FTR 2012.
FTR 2011 Awards, in no particular order
1. Victor, Champion, and Overall Destroyer of Egos (especially mine) Award: Jeff K., who won a sprint, took the KOM at Lake Casitas, the KOM at Balcom Canyon, and who let me win a sprint.
2. Guy Who Everyone Hopes Doesn’t Lose Ten Pounds Award: MMX, who took second at Balcom, provided daylong horsepower, and whose fearless attack leading up to Balcom demonstrates his conviction to live by the words of Steve Prefontaine—“Most people race to see who’s fastest. I race to see who’s got the most guts.” On FTR 2011, buddy, that was you.
3. Horse of the Day Award: Harold M., who won the Ojai Sprint, got 2nd at Fillmore, reeled in the break after the Santa Paula climb, almost caught the break before the sprint at Santa Barbara, pulled the entire group at 30+ for ten miles along the 101, did the lion’s share of the work chasing the cheaters after Ventura, and still whipped most of the others up Balcom Canyon. Plus he let me win the sprint at Fillmore.
4. Best New FTR’er Award: Dan S., who took two second place sprint finishes, a fourth, and who spent more time at the front than most other riders, even after he’d pretty much hit the wall an hour or so before Balcom.
5. Guy Who Rode Through the Worst Pain Award: Rod G., who started cramping at the 66-mile mark, and gutted out the entire rest of the ride with nasty cramps.
6. Funniest FTR’er Award: Martin H., for his hilarious comments, his refusal to be the least bit intimidated by the ride, and his unforgettable crack about the pilates…not to mention his picture of Napoleon on a horse. Martin also spent a big chunk of the day on the point.
7. Godlike Icon Award: Steve H., who blazed up Balcom for third even though he tips the scales at 190+. A true monster in every way, and proof that they don’t hand out Olympic gold medals just for good looks.
8. Redemption Award: Alex B., “The Kid,” who came back after an epic FTR fail in 2009 to complete the ride, take the Santa Paula sprint, and ride tough from beginning to end.
9. Tough as Nails Award: Gil, who, at 65 years old, not only finished the ride in fine form but kicked my butt up Balcom and up the golf course.
10. I’m Not a Wussy Award: SternO, who proved what no one has ever seriously doubted, which is that he is tough as nails and broken glass. Plus, when he saw me flailing on Balcom, he didn’t laugh. “I really felt sorry for you,” he said, and he meant it.
11. It’s Only a Bike Ride Award: LRon, for his selfless effort in our doomed breakaway, and for actually stopping at the guardrail. He’s not just the best coach around, he’s a great humanitarian, too.
12. Most Lashing Pull Award: Jim B., for his herculean pull towards the end of the ride that was so hard it almost shelled me off the back. Thank goodness he doesn’t find his way to the front more often.
13. Fluffiest Saddle Award: G3, who hands-down had the cutest little orange puffball hanging from the back of his saddle. G3 also had the happiest demeanor, and of the first-timers did lots more time on the point than common sense should have dictated.
14. Best Perspective on Life Award: Doug P., who participated, enjoyed, but took the whole thing in stride, just happy to complete the ride without making it into a soap opera, unlike the writer of this blog.
15. Most Hopeless but Daring Attack Award: Evan D., for attacking Jeff K. on the climb to Casitas Lake. That took balls, son, but it looked like it might have cost a nut and a half, too.
16. Quietest Award: Gil’s son Wyatt, who did the entire ride without saying anything and without even breaking a sweat. With legs like that, on your next FTR you’ll be expected to be ladling out the pain soup.
17. Guy You Better Hope Doesn’t Get Race Fit Award: John W., best descender, toughest rider, and guy who by all rights shouldn’t have gotten past mile 70 but who nonetheless completed the whole damn ride in glorious style.
18. Guy Who Doesn’t Need an Award Award: GFT DS Dave Jaeger. Thanks and words won’t do it. You trolled the back to make sure no one got left behind, you hammered on the front to stamp your authority on the ride, you smiled from start to finish, and you’ve made each of our lives better and happier thanks to your selflessness.
19. People Who Made it All Possible Award: Mr. and Mrs. Jaeger, Lynn, Macey, and Carly. We’re in your debt. Again. You’re the best!
—Please note…this next part is NOT an award—
20. Clueless Bums Who Missed the Girl Scout Cookies Sign-Up Non-Award: In case you missed it, because it was hidden openly in the middle of the table between the beer and hot sauce on a giant white piece of paper with a pen next to it, there was a Girl Scout Cookies sign-up list. I was astounded to see that only a handful of you bums signed up. So the ride wasn’t worth four bucks for a box of cookies to help the girls who made your freaking breakfast?
Of course the real explanation is that you were so whacked by the FTR and so famished, and so enamored of the good beer and good food, and having so much fun at regaling each other with Seth on the Guardrail and Seth the Pilates Instructor jokes that you just overlooked it. Get it? That’s your excuse, bonehead, “I just overlooked it.” Now that it’s been pointed out, please contact DJ and order your danged cookies.
Ride data: 5:56, 116.4mi, 236wNP, 19.6mph, 6049ft, 156lb.
January 24, 2011 § Leave a comment
First time I ever saw Charon I thought, “Who is that guy? What’s wrong with that crazy guy who doesn’t know how to glue on a freaking tire?”
We were barreling into the turn before the finish line at Eldo, it must have been April 2008, and this Sho-Air guy a few wheels ahead of me rolled a tubular on his fancy carbon rims. He went down quicker and harder than a hooker on a thousand-dollar trick, bounced off the tarmac and stood there in the middle of the field with bikes whizzing by, dodging, swerving, cussing, and doing everything you couldn’t imagine except slam into him, the stink from his melted carbon wheel spitting smoke and dust into the air and that rolled tire hanging off the busted rim like a twisted old dog’s tongue lolling on the pavement.
That was Charon, he of the not-real-well-glued-on-tire, soon to be he-whose-tires-were-always-glued-on-so-hard-that-you’ll-need-vicegrip-pliers-to-get-them-off.
I did a few more Eldos that year, and never saw him roll another tire. Actually, I never saw him much at all, except at the beginning of the race. No matter where I finished, he was always across the line so far ahead of me that to have really effectively congratulated him I would have needed to have sent him a letter or called him on his cell. Thing about Charon was that he was always smiling, always happy to meet people, always in a good mood.
Sure, he was happy. Sure, he was nice. Sure, everyone liked him. Sure, he was handsome. Sure, he was a rocket on a bike. None of that mattered to me, though: I saw through to the real Charon. And I’m going to introduce him to you here.
You pays your nickel and you takes your chance
If you will do me a favor, scroll down a few blog entries and you’ll see one of my posts regarding “Who’s Hot.” It lists, down at the bottom, Dan G., who celebrated his first race yesterday with a win. See? I was right. It also lists, higher up, Charon S., and gives the inside tip: he’s fully prepared and ready to rock. On Sunday at the Dominguez Hills crit put on by Chris Lotts and world-renowned California Bicycle Racing, 90+ knuckleheads showed up to blast around in a circle for an hour in the 30+ race.
I was one of them. Charon was one of the others. I finished in the churning, heaving, hopeless middle of the pack. Charon took fourth, and would have won if Bert G. hadn’t decided to lead out the sprint by digging a pedal and launching four hundred feet into the air and onto the pavement head-first. 90 guys. Fourth place. Think it’s easy? There’s another one on February 20 where you can come out and show us how it’s done.
Charon’s placing wasn’t just impressive because I labeled him an uber-hammer in my galactically-famous Form Report. It wasn’t just impressive because he beat out 86 other idiots in a mad, high speed death scramble for a moldy snack and cheap bottle of wine. It was impressive because to get to the line he had to pick his way through an earlier mass pileup, hold his position with five laps to go, bull his way onto the right wheel in the closing lap, fight off the scavengers and jackals trying to edge him out for position in the sprint, avoid a death crash in the final turn, and do all of that without expending any more energy than absolutely necessary so that when it came time to uncork the champagne bottle, it would uncork with a vengeance. It was a risky, nasty business that required a big, fat, hairy nutsack about the size of a shotput.
Will the real Charon please stand up?
Of course he won’t. That’s because, like I said earlier, he’s got a secret side. It’s soft-spoken or utterly mute, it’s hidden behind a smiling mask, and it never, ever grins. The only prisoners it ever takes are already dead. This is Charon the bike racer: dialed in and focused on winning, and in case you didn’t notice, or didn’t want to notice, or weren’t smart enough to notice, it means he’s intent on beating the snot out of the competition, all of it, including YOU.
What makes Charon the bike racer even scarier is that he doesn’t ride dirty. No nasty moves (aside from the occasional poorly glued on tire), no cheap shots, nothing mean or sleazy or low. He rides fair and he beats you fair and whips your ass with class.
So those of you who know and love Charon the nice guy are asking, “Who the hell are you? How are you pretending to know Charon? He smacks you around in bike races like a boxer beating a legless chicken. Where do you get off with all this crap?”
Where I get off with all my crap
The answer, of course, is that I don’t really know any of those things about Charon–except that he’s the nicest guy in the peloton and he really did screw up that time by not gluing on his tire. I’m just speculating from afar, as I’ve never gotten close enough to him in a finish to see how he rides; he’s just too damned fast. Mostly I’m guessing, because even old man bike racing is fast and hard and tough, and when you place that highly in a 90-man field with half the guys going for the win, you have to be hard and smart and quick and possess a big old hairy, gnarly pair.
So where I’m going is this, South Bay Cycling Prediction Number Two for the season: Charon is going to win a whole bunch of races this year. And just because he’s smiling at you and giving you training advice and inspiring you with his positive attitude doesn’t mean he isn’t going to squash you like a bug when there’s only a couple hundred meters to the bright white line.
January 20, 2011 § 3 Comments
This all happened, if it happened at all, more than twenty-five years ago. My memory is not terribly reliable over that stretch of time, and my imagination sometimes has a way of making stories differ from the way that other people remember them. Still, I’d vouch for everything that follows except for the parts that are wrong. Hopefully someone in the great wide blogosphere will identify the errata and let me know. Not that I’d change anything, because it’s such a good story.
When I was racing bikes as a student at the University of Texas in the mid-1980’s, I went to a “Health Fair” being held at the UGL. There were various stops and you’d go around from station to station, testing various aspects of your health and fitness. The final station was an ergometer with a VO2 facemask. I think it was a Tunturi, with green lettering on the side and a giant flywheel in the front.
The guy standing at the ergometer was a fit-looking student with a clipboard. I think he had dark brown hair, medium build, and cyclist legs. He took down my name and phone number, I signed the waiver and did the test to failure. I weighed about 145 pounds and was 6’1″. He told me my VO2 max and sent me on my way.
The next day I got a call. “Hi. I’m the guy who did the VO2 max test yesterday. Your results weren’t bad. Are you a cyclist?”
“Yes,” I said. “Why?”
“I’m a grad student doing research on human physiology and wondered if you’d be interested in doing some testing at the lab.”
I laughed, and politely declined. This was the mysterious Andy Coggins, the cyclist from the Midwest who had come to Texas to experiment on cyclists in his mad cycling lab. The tales had already grown into awful legends about how Coggins would approach cyclists, get them to agree to testing, and then put them through the most horrific workouts imaginable, followed by the occasional muscle biopsy to determine lactate levels. We heard that he was testing some carbohydrate replacement drink or other and that the tests measured the efficacy of the various products.
One of our buddies, Bob L., was a test subject and never failed to regale us with stories of twice weekly two-hour ride-to-failure sessions that were more painful and draining and crushing than any ride, ever. I knew enough to steer clear of the mad scientist’s laboratory, even though one of my buddies from the Midwest, Jeff F., had this to say about Coggins: “He knows how to race a bike.”
For someone who was so focused on cycling performance, we wondered why Andy never showed up on the group rides, and laughed at his conspicuous absence from the races. “Typical professor,” we said. “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”
Occasionally we would see him out on Loop 360. Rumor had it that he did a single 60-mile workout a couple of times a week, and that was pretty much it. To say he was on the periphery of our consciousness is to overstate it. We only noticed that the more workouts Bob L. did with the mysterious scientist, the worse he raced.
In those days the biggest race of the year was the state road race. It was a 110-mile event usually held outside of San Antonio in the blistering heat. The contenders for the crown were a small cadre whom everyone knew: Mike Murray, Jerry Markee, Stan Blanton, Dean Buzbee, John Morstead, Mike Adams, Mark Switzer, Jeff Fields…these were the heads of state. I may have the year wrong, but I’m pretty sure that it was in 1985 that Coggins showed up to race. I was living in Colorado at the time, and got the race report second hand, the day after the race.
He was unknown as a racer, and only vaguely known at all–he was certainly no one that any of the big guns took any notice of whatsoever. Their familiarity with his racing ability never got much more intimate, however, because Coggins parted company with the field halfway through the race and no one ever saw him again. He motored to victory in the longest solo breakaway in the history of the race. He chewed up the field and spit it back out on the hot Texas tarmac, and to rub salt into the gaping wound, that was his first and last race in Texas that I ever heard of. Rumor had it that the only reason he even showed up was to test some theory about training that he’d concocted in the lab.
Two decades later I came across the name of Andrew Coggan, Ph.D., and made the connection–I’d had his name wrong all those years. Was that tour de force at the Texas state championships an early test of his theories about power and training? Or did he just want to kick everyone in the teeth before moving on to greener pastures?
Will we ever know?
UPDATED 3:29 PM
Andy posted the following on the Google Wattage Forum, clarifying the finer points of the race itself:
“Thank you for that little trip down memory lane!
“I did not actually solo to victory, though – rather, I had to outsprint Stan Blanton after we first got away from Bob Lowe and two others with one lap to go, then dropped Scott Dickson at the start of the final, gradual climb to the finish line.
“My training prior to that race consisted mostly of a few months of commuting either to or from campus via Loop 360, which took ~1 h. On Sundays, I would do the Bee Caves/Mansfied Dam/Bull Creek/Loop 360 route, which took ~2 h. The only structure or intensity was imposed by my “must-catch-and-drop-any-cyclist-I-see” rule…I can still recall some really painful chases, when I’d see somebody up ahead of me in the afternoon heat, groan to myself, then suck it up and get on with
the required task.
“A week after the road race, I did the state TT, but those were the only two races I did while I lived in Austin.
“Anyway, thanks again for the Andy Warhol moment…if you or anybody else have pictures from those events, I’d love to see them.”